The articles that have filled our newspapers for months about the air pollution in our cities are just the tip of the iceberg. The elephant in the room is actually the air in our homes. According to Christian Lickfett, air pollution expert & MD of Commercial Air Filtration: "Indoor air, in all buildings including schools and nurseries, can easily be ten times more polluted than outside air, as contamination is created and builds up in buildings." Here's what to do about it:
1. Open your windows and recycle the air inside
We would all like to think that having braved the toxic air outside, coming back home would provide a safe haven but that is rarely the case. Our homes nowadays are so double glazed and central heated that the air we are breathing often contains higher levels of pollutants than the air outside. The paint on your walls, the chipboard in your kitchen and even the fire-retardant sprays on that new sofa, all give off invisible gases that can affect your health. Opening your windows as often as possible is a natural way to filter the air and can be one of the most effective ways of assisting your lungs to dissipate the build-up.
2. Bin chemical cleaning products and replace them with organic ones
You may think the air freshener in the sitting room oozing the scent of fresh pine conjures the fresh smell of the mountains or healthy country air, but in reality, it's filling your home with dozens of chemicals. So is that scented clothes freshener you pour into your washing machine, the nice smelling detergent, the fabric softener that the TV ads rave about, the aerosols you spray around the house. Only the description 'fragrance' is legally required on their labels, yet most of the chemicals that make up those fragrances are made from petrochemicals that have rarely been tested to quantify their effects on human health.
I now only buy organic products, and even then check the labels to make sure. For an inexpensive option, used successfully for centuries by our less advertising-led ancestors, make your own cleaning products from baking soda, lemon and vinegar. Put 4oz bicarb into a small bowl with 1 tbsp washing-up liquid and add enough vinegar to make a creamy liquid. Then start cleaning - it works like a dream on all sorts of surfaces, including a crusty oven.
3. Invest in green houseplants: nature's air-filters
Not only do your pot plants look pretty, but they are one of the most inexpensive ways of cleaning up the air in your house. A NASA study found that specific varieties successfully neutralised the chemicals from household products, paints and furniture.
I kept a rubber plant for 40 years, growing it from a tiny 3 leafed specimen at school, to an 8ft giant that eventually had to be given away when it got taller than my sitting room ceiling. Little did I know that apart from being my friend, and the only witness to that fact that I really do have green fingers, it was also protecting me from the ever present formaldehyde, the dangerous neurotoxin frequently used in the glues that hold your furniture together.
Back in the '80s you had a choice of about four options if you wanted to decorate your living room with plants and, as a student, I owned them all.
4 common houseplants and their air cleaning properties
Hardiest of them was the spider plant. Now I find that apart from a capacity to endure months of food and water neglect, they are super efficient at clearing formaldehyde, along with carbon monoxide and xylene (found in petrol).
Weeping figs, those other student-proof survivors, fight formaldehyde, xylene and toluene, (found in furniture, fireplace smoke, and common household products).
Boston Ferns apparently remove more formaldehyde than any other plant and also neutralise the benzene and xylene that can sneak indoors if you have a garage attached to your house, as does the Aloe Vera plant.
My other university friend, the peace lily, helps filter formaldehyde, benzene and cleaning product VOCs. Who knew!
4. Buy an air filter for your home
I am a huge fan of that remarkable British entrepreneur inventor, James Dyson. I think he has contributed more to improve all our daily lives than anyone else this half century and should be hugely celebrated daily. In fact, along with Philip Pullman and Mohammed Yunnis, he is on my 'Dream Dinner Party list' (note: not a single politician on there!). He has done it again with his air filter. The Dyson Pure Cool removes 99.95% of particles as small as 0.1 microns in the air inside your home. It automatically and continually monitors the indoor air quality in your rooms and adjusts the airflow accordingly. Once the air is improved it keeps it that way. You can breathe safely knowing not a pollutant or a toxin can escape its all encompassing reach.
The Pure Cool has rave reviews from its purchasers, especially those suffering from asthma, allergies and lung problems. It looks cool, works to cool (and heats warm too), but its main issue, as with all those brilliant Dyson products, is its super cool price. At around £500 it's not an inexpensive purchase, but if you live in a hideously polluted city then this may be one of the most worthwhile health aids you can invest in as it's built to last years.
5. Make your home a no-smoking zone
There's little point filtering the air in your house if you're topping it up every few hours by smoking. As we learn more and more about the toxic effects of cigarettes, this one is a no-brainer if you are on the cusp of giving up smoking. It's not just you that is dancing with the possibilities of endless horrible diseases, but you are also endangering the health of those that live with you - animals too. If you can't give it up for your partner and children, think carefully about your defenceless hamster or golden retriever. Your choice can affect their lives.
'Probably the single most important aspect of indoor air pollution is secondhand cigarette smoke," says Philip Landrigan, MD, a pediatrician and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and numerous research papers show that secondhand smoke increases a child's risk of developing ear and respiratory infections, asthma, cancer and even SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). If you are the person doing the smoking, you are looking at a future where your odds include a multiple of unpleasant consequences - breathing problems, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
6. Invest in a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner
Do you suffer from allergies or asthma? Do you regularly vacuum every inch of your home? Or just once in a while?
Did you know that the dust that's been sitting in those hard to get to corners could be full of all sorts of chemicals and allergens that aren't doing your health any good at all?
Switch your normal vacuum for a hoover with a HEPA filter and you will notice a difference. It filters out around 99.7% of the small dust particles that you breathe in and that can irritate your lungs. It reduces lead concentrations and levels of fire-retardants inside the house and hoovers up pollens, dust mites and pet hairs, all of which can overload your immune system and leave you with allergies and skin problems. The Hoover WindTunnel seems to be considered one of the best, and has a useful light system to tell you when you have cleaned enough. A red light means there is still dirt, and green means you are dust-free.
Don’t underestimate the air that you breathe. As with many things in life, it’s not as good for you as you may have thought, and there’s no ‘contents’ label to check!